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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 13056


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (11:13): Australia grows 500,000 tonnes of citrus. We import, depending on our season, between 500,000 and 600,000 in equivalent tonnes of concentrate orange juice. In an average year, with a favourable dollar, we have been able to export up to 130,000 tonnes of citrus mainly to America and Asia.

The real troubles for our growers began when Brazil began dumping its concentrate orange juice into Australia because it was being rejected by other countries. According to Griffith navel and Valencia grower Louis Sartor, Brazil has been doing this in earnest for 20 years and this has absolutely hit our industry in the past two years. Our growers have also been hard hit by our dollar hitting parity.

Shed hands in fruit-packing houses working in California are paid $8 an hour. In Griffith, it is $18 an hour, plus on-costs such as superannuation et cetera, making it about $25 an hour. Picking a bin in California costs the orchardist $7.50 plus delivery of $1.50 a bin. So that is $9 to get the fruit from the tree to the packing house. In Griffith, in the Riverina, it is $33 to pick a bin and $5 in freight per bin to get it to the packing house. In South Africa, they can pick it for $2 a bin. Our efficiency is way ahead—world's best practice—but costs are killing our growers. We saw last week on A Current Affair how tragic the situation is, with fruit growers right throughout the Riverina pulling out trees, dumping oranges into paddocks and then churning them into the ground. We run the largest orchards with the fewest people.

Mr Sartor is also gravely concerned about what he terms 'our ridiculous labelling laws'. He said:

Three years ago the Labor government conducted the Blewett report and have not implemented any of the recommendations in that report.

Therefore consumers are finding it difficult to make purchases of Australian product and the Labor government should be absolutely ashamed of itself for denigrating the Australian farmer to the point where the Australian farmer's product is not able to be recognised on the Australian supermarket shelf.

It should be implemented immediately—

that is the Blewett report—

and on fresh fruit and in particular on fruit drink and fruit juice products.

On 23 October 2009, the ministerial council announced that former Australian health minister, Dr Neal Blewett, would head up the panel to undertake a comprehensive examination of food-labelling law and policy. Dr Blewett was a pioneer of Australia's universal Medicare health system and is a strong advocate for the rights of consumers. The review panel completed two rounds of public consultation and received more than 6,000 submissions. I also acknowledge the work of Senator John Williams of the Nationals in the area of proper labelling. On 28 January 2011, the review panel officially presented its final report, Labelling Logic. It was publicly released on the same day.

Another Riverina grower, Bart Brighenti, said:

The glut is the symptom not the cause, the cause is the cost of doing business in Australia (regulated labour and conditions, deregulated growing industry, domestic supermarket duopoly, government policy like carbon tax not applied to imports and labelling).

… We keep pulling trees out till there is nothing left here.

Deregulation and free trade is destroying Agriculture and for WHAT benefit? We are net importers of fruit/vegetables/juice and fish (aren't we surrounded by ocean?) and this has delivered the consumer in Australia with the fastest increasing food prices in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Choice is either we do business in Australia or not.

I recently wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, raising these concerns:

1. A ten-fold increase of Federal Government charges associated with registering a facility for export

2. Lack of drive and support for opening and maintaining export market access

3. Failure to impose the same quality restrictions on imported goods as Australian produced goods.

My letter continued:

Orchardists recently received a notice from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry advising new fees and charges to be imposed to register sheds for packing oranges for exports.

The new annual charge for registered charge for registered establishments under Tier 3, protocol markets, increases from $550 per annum to—

wait for it—

$8,530. This is a significant increase which orchardists have no way of recouping.

It took almost two months, but I got the standard response back from the minister—which provided no comfort or relief whatsoever to orchardists within the Riverina area.

The Riverina is of course already beset not just with the carbon tax, like everywhere else in this country, but also with deep and worrying concerns about water availability and security into the future. I implore this government to implement a decent Murray-Darling Basin plan. (Time expired)